WINNIPEG is 2,000 kilometres away from the nearest ocean, but that didn't stop a local man from trying to build his business through the black-market aquatics industry.
Jason Daeninck, the owner of Salt Water Connection on Henderson Highway, was convicted Friday of smuggling protected coral rock, sea horses and giant clams into the city from Indonesia.
The case is believed to be the first of its kind discovered in Manitoba.
Daeninck was found guilty of 18 charges under the federal Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, through both his personal name and business. He will return to court early next year for sentencing, where he faces potential fines in excess of $1 million plus the possibility of jail time.
Daeninck was arrested in 2007 after Canada Customs intercepted a shipment of more than 9,000 kilograms of scleratinia rock at a port in British Columbia. The rare type of rock is protected because it contains coral. It can only be imported or exported if an international permit is obtained, which wasn't done.
Investigators linked the shipment to Daeninck and got a warrant to search his home and business on Henderson Highway.
They learned Daeninck had been involved in other illegal shipments of sea horses and giant clams, which are protected by the same regulations.
None of the protected items were recovered; officials believe they were brought into Canada and then sold on the black market. It's unknown exactly how many made it into the country.
Daeninck fought his case at trial, claiming he had ordered another type of rock that didn't contain coral for the purpose of building a fence in Winnipeg, like one he'd seen on a visit to Indonesia. Daeninck claimed there must have been a mistake in the order and he wasn't responsible.
Provincial court Judge Ray Wyant rejected his version of events Friday, calling it "meek and unbelievable." He said the fence-building story is laughable, considering the type of rock Daeninck claims he was truly trying to obtain would likely not have withstood the rigours of a cold Prairie winter.
"He was playing fast and loose with the international importation of protected species," Wyant said.
"He'd have us believe, for no reason whatsoever, a supplier in Indonesia sent him things he didn't order. He's not a neophyte when it comes to these matters. He knew exactly what he was doing. Any suggestion he ordered something else is a sham."
Wyant said it's clear Daeninck was trying bolster his own business and "play with the big boys" by bringing in items that would be considered the Holy Grail for black-market buyers.
Investigators also uncovered evidence, largely through seized emails, that Daeninck was involved in creating duplicate sets of invoices to dupe customs officials about the true nature of some of his shipments.
"This was an attempt to come up with a well-concocted explanation in case he got caught," Wyant said.